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Just a few months ago, Bryan McCann and Richard Socher, the former chief scientist at Salesforce, launched You.com, a search engine that leverages AI to understand search queries, rank the results, and parse the queries into different languages (including programming languages). The platform summarizes information from across the web and is extensible with built-in search apps, like apps for Yelp and Twitter, so that users can complete tasks without having to leave the results page.
In its quest to recalibrate expectations around search engines, You.com is today launching a search app built in collaboration with OpenAI that generates snippets — or even documents — of text when given a prompt. Socher calls it a “personal AI writer.”
“[T]his is our first foray into what we call the app store, which doesn’t optimize for you spending as much time on there so we can sell you advertisement, but for you, actually getting stuff done,” Socher told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “[It’s perfect for] if you have writer’s block.”
You.com’s new tool is powered by the same technology behind OpenAI’s GPT-3, an AI language system that can generate human-like poetry, emails, recipes, short stories, movie scripts, and more. Socher wasn’t keen to disclose many of the technical details, but described You.com’s relationship with OpenAI as a “partnership” and the model underpinning the tool as “very similar” to GPT-3. (When contacted for comment, an OpenAI spokesperson said that YouWrite is powered by GPT-3 — specifically the recently-released InstructGPT models — through its API.)
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To use You.com’s writing assistant, called YouWrite, users type a query like “How to write an essay” into the search engine’s search bar and click the magnifying glass icon. Up pops a widget with options that let the user specify the length (e.g., paragraph), the audience or receiver (e.g., students, teachers, or marketers), tone (e.g., persuasive), and the content of the message (e.g., “three paragraphs on the Civil War”) they want YouWrite to generate.
“We want to, basically, create this AI-powered writing system to help people be more productive, but also being controlled — you can decide what it should write,” Socher said. “We want to put people into control of the AI to make them more efficient.”
In a demo, Socher showed how YouWrite can be prompted to write paragraphs explaining “why dogs are awesome,” a blog post about a new search engine, or a boilerplate rejection letter for a job candidate (complete with a placeholder for the candidate’s name). While VentureBeat wasn’t given an opportunity to test the tool itself — Socher entered the prompts during a Zoom call — the quality of the text seemed at least on par with output from GPT-3 and other sophisticated language systems.
Of course, with any AI-powered language system, there’s a risk that the system might become susceptible to bias and toxicity. Language systems such as GPT-3 learn to “write” by analyzing huge chunks of text from websites, including from problematic sources advancing conspiracy theories, misinformation, racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism. OpenAI itself notes that biased datasets can lead to placing words like “naughty” or “sucked” near female pronouns and “Islam” near words like “terrorism.”
Socher claims that YouWrite prevents problematic outputs using filters and other techniques, like human feedback, on the backend. We’ll have to see how well the system holds up once it’s made public, but during the demo, typing the prompt “why jews are bad” yielded the message “We’re sorry, but we can’t return a good completion for your request.” YouWrite also seemed to be able to detect when its output might contain sensitive content, such as references to violence, and append a warning label.
You.com will offer YouWrite for free to start, but frequent users and those who use it to generate longer outputs (think essays) will eventually have to pay for the privilege. Socher says that pricing hasn’t been decide yet, but will be “a lot cheaper” than other AI-powered writing tools on the market, like Jasper and CopyAI.
“I think it’s really important for search engines like ours to be the best place to kind of explore this kind of new technology — to move away from, ‘Here’s a list of links that’s getting cluttered and full of ads,'” Socher said. “I think that ultimately, if you want to be a writer and have a search engine that helps you do research, summarize the web, and also get something on the page, You.com is going to be your best search engine.”
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